Soil testing - sour/bitter tomatoes

Pearisburg, VA(Zone 7a)

I have posted my soil sample on the veggie garden forum & tomato forum and I've not found much on suggestions. Let's see what wonderful DGer help I can get here.

I've had the garden (30x30) for 5 years. The soil here in SW Va has lots of limestone. The soil is very rich but this particular area didn't have the depth so we purchased a dump truck load of river bottom soil and it was plowed in and that year the garden did fairly well as I recall.

The next year we had a pickup load of horse manure from our friend's farm and it was plowed in and I used 10-10-10 when planting corn, beans, etc. Squash did amazingly well, beans did pretty good but all in all it was ok.

Skipping to last year I planted 45+ tomatoes from various sources and types. Big Boy, Rugers, Yellow Boy, Roma, etc - all were bitter/sour. We could not eat a tomato sandwich from any of them. I canned salsa and even with all the garlic, sugar, spices - I can't eat the stuff. There is something about the taste I can't put my finger on. They grew healthy plants, normal amount of tomatoes, but the taste was awful.

My soil is off the charts for the following:
Phophorus 335
Potassium 404
Calcium 6791 = yes that is correct
Mg 466

In the normal range:

Mn 32.4
Cu 0.5
Fe 4.4
Zn 12.6
B 1.8

pH 7.4 which is high as I understand it.

The only recommendations given on the soil report - which apparently isn't a very good report states "apply a nitrogen only fertilizer"

Any suggestions? Bean production was down as well.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

This may be one for the pros. Have you thought to try a university extension service? That soil report doesn't sound encouraging for being a helpful source.
I've read that Mg and Ca interact. I do not know what a good ration is for them, though.
Something the lower the soil pH- I wonder if that would help leach out some of that excess mineral.

Must be really disappointing, wish we had more help here!

Pearisburg, VA(Zone 7a)

The test was done at Virginia Tech's soil lab/extension answer yet. Thanks

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I read recently that a variety may taste very different between one year and the next due to rainfall and temperature. Pn the other hand, I think you said that bALL your vaireties were bad, and even bean yield was down. I know I had a very wierd spring, and unusually cold summer. Did you have very unusual weather last year?

Your case does sound more severe than that, but maybe next year they won't be AS bad, just with different weather.
And you can hope that some nitrient change was temporary, and some excess will partly leach away or be insolublized by interacting with something else.

But "hope it gets somewhat better by itself" isn't very scientific.

Pearisburg, VA(Zone 7a)

My husband said the same thing. No need to pay AgLab $50 to test and hope they can tell me the problem - which could end in $$$$ of 'suggestions' that may not work.

Hopefully someone here at DG will have an answer.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Normally, to ANY soil problem, I would suggest "add more organic matter", but didn't this start right after adding a big load of horse manure? Was it fresh (uncomposted)?

If something was in that, that either bothered to tomatoes or locked up some nutirient or provided excess of some nutirient, or excess salt, maybe, hopefully, breaking down or leaching out over time will help.

If the water retention changed a lot, and soil became soggy, you might encourage it to drain more with a trench, or piling up a few hills or rows above grade.

Normally I would also suggest "check the pH and add dolomite lime" but pH 7.4 is already on the high side and you have excess Ca.. Pray for acid rain?

I'm trying to think of inexpensive things to try, just in case one of them makes a difference. If you tried several schemes, each scheme on just one part of the bed, you might even discover the root cause.

But probably the goal is tomatoes, not science!

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"No need to pay AgLab $50 to test and hope they can tell me the problem"

Fifty bucks? Good golly! Our university extension soil test here was $18 the last time I had it done, and as I said in the other thread, the results I got were very detailed and described the exact amendments needed per 1000 square feet to straighten the soil chemistry and pH out. Those recommended amendments worked perfectly and I had a great garden the same year.

I'm tempted to have you send me a pint of dirt by UPS so I can have it tested here by U. of Missouri. They wouldn't need to know it's Virginia dirt unless they find R.E. Lee's pocket watch in it or something. LOL

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Good deal Ozark. Meanwhile. don't you think those smart soil guys will know its not from MO? (grin)

Pearisburg, VA(Zone 7a)

I don't think they really care where the soil comes from - as long as they get $18 for the test they wouldn't really care. It was $10 for Virginia Tech's lab to test it but you see what I got for the $10.

The manure was put down the year prior. The manure pile had been turned by the tractor often. There is not a drainage problem at all. The garden was dry for the most part and on a few occassions I put multiple hoses together to reach the garden and ran the sprinkler - town water. We have 3 - 55 gal barrels, plastic, that had formerly held die used in coloring mulch. They were well washed and the water that was stored in them was never 'tinted' or smelled. I didn't use that very often on the tomatoes. I did use it on squash/cucumbers since they needed more water and they produced large quantities.

Maybe I could mail you a jar of salsa or canned tomatoes and you taste them. You will get the drift of the taste and maybe can nail it that way. The food isn't harmful because it's been boiled and canned and we've ate some or I've added it to soups. Anyone up to a taste tests? Someone with a good idea for sensing taste in tomatoes - don't want to supply salsa for Super Bowl

Pearisburg, VA(Zone 7a)

I was telling a lady at a local fruit market about my terrible tomatoes. Another customer came over and said he had the exact same thing happen 2 years ago. He said the following year he put 1 tsp of Epson salt in the hold when planting his tomatoes and all of the crop turned out perfect that season.

Would Epson salts make that much difference or was it just a better year? I know Epson is great for LOTS of things but could that change the soil composition?


Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Well, I have read something about too much Mg throwing off your Calcium. In terms of- as I understood, too much Mg would bind up the Ca. Since you have so much Ca, maybe you need the balance with the Mg in Epsom salts.

Virginia Beach, VA

Just curious, is there an asian garden in the neighborhood. there is an asian veggie called bitter melon and will make the veggies requiring pollination to taste bitter.


Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Tomatoes are rarely fertilized by anything other then wind. They are self fertile.

Pearisburg, VA(Zone 7a)

No asian gardens to my knowledge.

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